June 29, 2014

Why aren’t more white males a part of the Lean In discussion at Mayo Clinic?

By Andrew M. Harrison

By Rielyn R. Campbell

I think Jackson Katz said it best in his Ted talk from November 2012, “A lot of men hear the term “women’s issues” and we tend to tune it out, and we think, “Hey, I’m a guy. That’s for girls.” Or “That’s for the women.” And “a lot of men literally don’t get beyond the first sentence as a result.” I hope if you are a man reading this, you get past the first sentence.

On June 19, 2014, I attended the Lean In session (link through Mayo Clinic intranet only), hosted by Mayo Clinic’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion and several Mayo Employee Resource Groups (MERGs). After opening remarks from Dr. Morie A. Gertz (Chair, Department of Medicine), Krysta L. Lambert (Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery), and Sandra M. Burrowes (Public Affairs), the discussion began with a quick summary of Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, by Dr. Bobbie S. Gostout (Chair, Department of Obstetrics/Gynecology). This was followed by four wonderful panelists, who shared their insights. I am encouraged and happy these conversations are happening at Mayo Clinic. They will hopefully be a cause for change.


Panelists, from left to right: Leon G. Clark (Vice Chair, Research), Ann M. Torkelson (Division Chair, Human Resources), Jill M. Ragsdale (Chief Human Resources Officer), and Barbara L. Porter (Administrator, Office for Diversity and Mayo Clinic Quality Academy)

At first, I was happy to see how many attended. Three hundred registered with nearly a hundred more on the wait-list. However, as I looked around the room, I was disheartened. The vast majority of the attendees were women which only furthered my belief that this is a real concern at Mayo Clinic making it an opportunity for change. What disappointed me the most was the observation that of those in attendance, I did not see one straight white male who was not there working; caterer or audiovisual technician. Considering white males are the majority in leadership, this was very discouraging. It made me question if these issues are being recognized by anyone other than those directly affected. We need men be a part of this discussion because they are part of the solution. “Adult men with power are the ones we need to be holding accountable for being leaders on these issues….one of the powerful roles that men can play in this work is that we can say some things that sometimes women can’t say, or better yet, we can be heard saying some things that women often can’t be heard saying….we need more men who have the courage and the strength to start standing up and saying some of this stuff, and standing with women and not against them…” (Jackson Katz, Ted Talk, November 2012). I challenge every white male to read this book and be a leader to help bring change for the other 50% of the population. “It is not possible for the junior women to get enough support unless senior men jump in too.” (Sandberg, 2013, p. 71).

AudienceOverhead video caption of most of the (enormous) audience.

I would like to share some issues I have observed or experienced. I started at Mayo Clinic as a medical secretary trainee and worked as a medical secretary for 4 and a half years then transferred to an administrative assistant position in education. In both of these positions, there are few opportunities to advance. One option is to take on a supervisor role. Unfortunately, without previous supervising experience, this option is out of reach. To make matters worse, I have not been able to find career development opportunities that would help me gain this experience in my current position. I have explored resources at Mayo Clinic intended to help employees advance but of those I have found, they are directed towards those already in leadership positions leaving those at the “bottom” feeling stuck. This may be an issue specific to these jobs, but considering support staff (medical secretaries and administrative assistants) are predominantly women, it becomes a women’s issue as well.

Being in education as an administrative assistant, there is an additional opportunity to be an education administration coordinator. These opportunities are few and far between so when an opening becomes available, there is an overabundance of applicants vying for one position and many are overqualified. To my knowledge, the next possible steps for an education administration coordinator require experience one cannot obtain in their position like supervision, and majority of the time (if not always), they require a master’s degree. Considering a degree is not required to be an education administration coordinator, this is a huge gap in the career ladder that many find very difficult to jump.

The support staff at Mayo Clinic is behind the scenes keeping this engine running smoothly. They are extremely talented and amazing people who need to have the opportunity to play a bigger part at Mayo Clinic. Their perspective is one that is not well represented in leadership, and it should be. Many technology, policy, and process changes put into place affect these employees but most leaders making these decisions don’t know the impact it will have on the jobs of those who support our consultants and leaders. These employees adapt without skipping a beat and Mayo Clinic continues to run like the well-oiled machine it has grown to be. The knowledge these employees must have to do their job would be invaluable to improving the efficiencies of this organization and yet they have limited opportunities to be at a table to “lean in” to. Here is an entire population of women (with a few men) who I feel have been neglected and ignored with regard to career advancement. I would like to see a program put into place that helps this untapped human resource advance in their careers and create more opportunities to fill the gap in the career ladder.

From my observations and experiences, it seems being a woman in one of these positions, in particular, makes it impossible to avoid being treated differently compared to your male peers. I have found that this group is often excluded, overlooked, ignored, and not taken seriously. They are often not included in meetings that are relevant to their work and their ideas are frequently not taken seriously. The job titles create a bias that results in being treated as an inferior and the expectation is that they don’t have anything valuable to contribute to the discussion before they even have the chance to open their mouth. Male colleagues have shared and been praised for an idea that was shared months before by female support staff but was dismissed. Women’s successes are often disregarded and even when they are acknowledged, they are immediately overshadowed by the successes of a male colleague. These issues are very real at Mayo Clinic, and we need all hands on deck to change it.

I was afraid to write this blog but I realized that is just the reason I must. I felt it was important to tell this story and this perspective because some may not even realize what is happening right under their noses. We lose many fantastic and amazing women because they leave Mayo Clinic for opportunities they don’t have here. This is a problem that can only be solved if everyone works together to make a change.

Lean In

Rielyn R. Campbell was born south of the twin cities and raised in Cresco, Iowa. She has worked at Mayo Clinic for seven years and is the Education Administration Coordinator for the Office for Diversity in the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, which includes support services for this Blog.

Editorial comment (Andrew M. Harrison): As one of the few white men to attend this event (as a small group facilitator), I was reminded of the continued failure of the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, the origins of which date back to slightly after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment (women’s suffrage) in 1919. This thought is in the context of historical, organized women’s support for equality movements ranging from the prior abolition movement to the future gay rights movement. Ironic, as our society and even medicine have already moved on to other equality movements, such as paternity leave.

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Posts: 3
Joined: Jun 12, 2014
Posted by @owend, Jun 30, 2014

I empathize with your story, and I believe your story is a common one in the corporate arena. I experienced similar experiences not as a female but as a “person of color”. There are other groups who feel as you do. They may be in a different industry but the sting is the same. The question I would like to pose is, why are white males singled out for not being part of the “Lean In session” discussion? What about males in general?

Thank you for your post!


Posts: 1
Joined: Jul 01, 2014
Posted by @rielyn, Jul 1, 2014

I singled out white males because although there weren’t many, I did see men of other racial and ethnic backgrounds there. Yes, ALL men should be present, but considering white males are in at least two groups of “privilege,” sadly, they have the most power to change the situation.

“Gender: Male-identified, masculine individuals still hold a level of privilege over people of other genders. Another word for the systemic operation of male privilege is “patriarchy”. In the media, we still see male authority superseding others. Men continue to be overrepresented in leadership roles and as news commentators. Men, their stories, and their perspectives continue to be vastly overrepresented in video games, film, and television programs, both onscreen and behind the scenes.
Racial: In the West, racial privilege is usually equated with white privilege since power, money, and influence tends to be concentrated among Caucasians in Western Europe and North America. Racial privilege is institutionalized racism: a system that is structured to privilege one group over others. In the media, consider how race plays into determining character types and roles.” (Forms of Privilege, Media Smarts; http://mediasmarts.ca/diversity-media/privilege-media/forms-privilege)


Posts: 3
Joined: May 14, 2014
Posted by @romell2014, Jul 2, 2014

Hello Owen, I am in agreement that the authors story is “a common one in….arena”. Fortunately, I have still yet to experience such as a “person of color” however I do realize that I am not exempt I think that our society still has struggles and issues with colored people which will forever impact how we are treated and how far we may go. What, if any, were you able to do with your experience?


Posts: 3
Joined: Jun 12, 2014
Posted by @owend, Jul 3, 2014

Hi Deborah,

thank you for your response and for your question. It has been a
tumultuous journey for me. What I have always done is give 100% effort and
always conduct myself with the highest of integrity. I have fell along the
way in how I handled certain situations. However, at the end of the day, I
like to think that I made a difference for those who are coming behind me.

I challenged a lot of the status quo as a minority in a corporate
environment. In retrospect, I have no regrets about some of the actions
that I took. Going through some of the negative experiences built my
character in ways that I would not have imagined. The experiences we go
through is what makes us who we are.

Thank you again for the post! I hope I provided a twinkle of insight.


Rahul Kashyap

Posts: 1
Joined: Jun 30, 2014
Posted by @kashyap, Jun 30, 2014

This is an issue for many-many classes /courses/ QI things offered at Mayo.

Sometimes I am the only male in the room for these classes/course over past 6 years, And I am not even white, so the issue is even bigger, I am glad that someone else thought of it too.
Keep up the good work. 🙂


Posts: 3
Joined: May 14, 2014
Posted by @romell2014, Jul 2, 2014

Interesting post. It seems that the more I read about leadership, the more I hear about the importance of relationships or working together in organizations. If moral purpose is job one, relationship or working together are job two, then I am not believing that we can go anywhere without everyone’s participation. I think working together; everyone coming on board are inherent concerns when it comes to getting the job done; it requires that all parties show their interest and get involved. I worked for an organization where their was a lack of involvement from individuals who could have really made a difference to the outcome or decision making process for getting many things done. This group of people who would not get involved less known come together impacted the progress for getting alot of things changed that could have helped for the working conditions as well as the management. Being specific to the “white male”; isn’t just a concern I do not believe but it does not mean that “white males may not need to “lean in” more. Thanks for your post.

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